Baby Sent to Foster Care for 57 Days Because Parents Are Blind

Misconceptions about Capabilities of the Blind

"People have general misconceptions about the capability of blind people," said Mark Riccobono, 34. "I can be dressed in a suit coat and tie and nice shoes and walk down the street with Austin, my 3-year-old, and every now and then someone will say, 'Isn't it great he's there to take care of you. The only thing a 3-year-old takes care of is himself."

They say the challenges are the same as all parents. "I want my 3-year-old to listen and not to think he is the center of the universe and have patience," said Melissa. "How do I get the baby to stop crying when he's having a fussy period?"

Austin has always worn bells on his shoes so his parents can know his location, in addition to audio cues.

"You have to figure things out," said Mark. "It's true for any parent. The techniques we use we invented because we know our son's patterns. He is expected to answer us if we call him. He knows he can't get away with nodding his head."

Once as a baby, Austin fell of the changing table and he had to go to the hospital. "I thought they would be all worried because I was blind, but they were wonderful. I reached for some wipes and he rolled off accidentally. Things can happen to all parents in a split second."

Support groups are important for blind parents; the NFB has a group forum for parent concerns. As executive director of the Jernigan Institute, which oversees education and training, Mark just released a training brochure for social workers, nurses and medical professionals about blind people becoming parents.

With her nearly 10-week-old daughter now home, Johnson is ecstatic, even about the middle-of-the-night feedings.

"We are doing much better now, though we had to adjust at first," said Johnson. "We fix her bottle that has lines that show the ounces. When I change her, I make sure I've got everything. Dressing is not an issue. I am the one who dresses her and I can see color. She's still too little to crawl, so we haven't reached those challenges yet."

Johnson said she hopes to return to school to be a Spanish translator and said she is not a "bad person."

"Makaela wasn't being abused or neglected, it was just because I was blind," said Johnson. "I just hope and pray this doesn't happen to anyone else. I wish I could teach people not to be so ignorant."

Coopman, her lawyer, agreed: "The real problem is not the physical loss of sight, it's the attitudes of the sighted public. It's an educational process."

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